Life: Pinned Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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The forces of technology and entertainment can deaden the senses, but those same forces can also awaken the senses. Some television programs trivialize life and invite viewers to turn their own lives into trivia; other programs challenge viewers to think in new ways or teach them about parts of the world they would otherwise never have access to.

Some Internet sites prompt folks to dig deeper into their hearts and to be charitable; others anesthetize their best intentions or inhale them into make-believe worlds. The same is true of movies. Some numb us with gratuitous violence. Others trigger our sense of outrage or empathy—for real—by the gritty, honest way they portray true-to-life dramas.

The film "127 Hours" is clearly one of the best of the lot. It recounts the true story of Aron Ralston, who, when he was pinned by a boulder in a Utah canyon and faced certain death, freed himself by first breaking and then amputating his own arm. His story is one of courage and love and the will to live.

The controversial part of  "127 Hours" is the intensely graphic scene in which Ralston removes his arm. It is so realistic that a handful of people have fainted while watching it. Almost all of them reportedly have returned to their seats to watch the rest of the film.

I am not one of those who believes that watching horrific, even horrifically violent media, inevitably desensitizes people or makes them seek to reproduce horror or violence in the world. I believe that some very graphic images actually elevate the sensitivities of people by awakening their empathy and allowing them to bear witness to the best in the human spirit.

That’s the reason why the intensely graphic and realistic "127 Hours" can heal folks, while the cartoonish, fake-reality can seriously damage them.

When a man loves life enough to bear unthinkable pain and disfigure himself in order to live more of it, it can make us look at our own pain as survivable—and worth surviving. When a man knows that his future will include painful rehabilitation and wearing a prosthetic arm (if he doesn’t die, despite amputating his own arm), yet chooses that future, he helps us imagine that we can overcome anything. Maybe our stock accounts are smaller. Maybe our jobs are threatened. Maybe the country is on the brink. Maybe inflation looms. Maybe all that pales compared with the illnesses some of us are, at this very moment, facing. Maybe it is nothing compared to the black hole of major depression. Maybe it isn’t a blip on the radar screen of a family wondering if a loved one will ever return from war. Maybe many of us are pinned, as Aron Ralston’s book puts it, between a rock and a hard place. But, despite that, if we can summon the determination to overcome, then we can do so. We have to decide to do it. We have to be willing to be in pain and to bleed. It is the only way to freedom. It always has been.

Life, as far as I can tell from living one and from listening to thousands of patients over the past 20 years, is all about being pinned between a rock and a hard place. There are glorious sunrises and sunsets, but there are times when we are required to elect pain and suffering, to preserve what is good and decent inside us and others. Ultimately, that is the story dramatized by Aron Ralston’s "127 Hours." Go see it.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, whose book “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a self-help movement. Dr. Ablow can be reached at